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ANNECY INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION FESTIVAL ONLINE 15 – 30 June 2020 Annecy, France: Life on the Couch – Again

I finally finished watching every film and program that Annecy Online had to offer by the end of the two-week online festival. I spent sixteen hours a day on my couch staring at a screen.

     I finally finished watching every film and program that Annecy Online had to offer by the end of the two-week online festival. This is something that I could never possibly do if I were in France. Instead, I spent sixteen hours a day on my couch staring at a screen.

     Once I figured out how to navigate my way through the system, with much help from my technically savvy husband Nik, everything worked fairly seamlessly. Although a few programs were missing that are important to me such as The Big Sleep screening which pays tribute to members of the animation community who have passed away since the previous Annecy, by and large I found the quality of the programs to be quite good this year. I think the addition a couple of years ago of four women to the previously all-male selection committee has led to more balanced programming.

     I watched the 37 films in the 5 Short Film Competition programs all in one day. Then I went back and watched many of them a second time over the week. The film that made the greatest impression on me was The Physics of Sorrow by Theodore Ushev. Every new film by him that I see makes me think that he can’t possibly top this one and then he does. With The Physics of Sorrow, the man with a thousand techniques and stories has created a masterpiece.

The Physics of Sorrow courtesy of NFB

 

     Theodore’s film about Bulgaria’s lost generation, empathy, and the end of the world is based on a book by Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov. The book tracks an unknown man’s life as he sifts through memories of his youth in Bulgaria through to his increasingly rootless and melancholy adulthood in Canada. I feel like it is difficult to tell where the book ends and Theodore’s life begins as they seemly meld together.

     To tell such a densely layered story he used the encaustic painting technique, better known as hot wax painting. This ancient technique employs heated beeswax with color pigments added. The Physics of Sorrow is the first animated film to use this technique.

Theodore Ushev at work courtesy of NFB

     Ushev’s film received the 2020 Annecy Cristal as well as the prestigious FIPRESCI International Critics Award. Upon receiving the news that he had won the Cristal from festival director Marcel Jean at the on line Awards Ceremony, the visibly moved animator said “In every profession, there is one award or achievement, which marks a kind of peak. Climbers have their famous peaks, writers, mathematicians and physicists have their Nobel and journalists have their Pulitzer. In animation, this peak is the Grand Prize of the Annecy Festival or just the Cristal. This is our Everest. Thank you! 

           At the National Film Board online press conference, Theodore was asked “Why do you work in        animation?”  To which he replied, “I love being the creator of the world”. He is currently in production on his first live-action film. He says that he always works on 5 or 6projects at once because if one fails there are always more. He certainly has many more worlds to conquer. It will be interesting to see what he will do after a live-action feature. Whatever it is, I am sure that it will be amazing.

          The Spanish short film Carne (Flesh) is a strong debut film by Camila Kater. In it she shows 5 different women at different stages in their lives. The stories of their relationship with their body and how they feel other people see them range from being overweight, menstruation, menopause, and aging. I was particularly struck by a trans woman who spoke frankly about her attempts to come to terms with men who act aggressively toward her. She says that because she has a voluptuous black woman’s body men often turn her into an object of lust.

Flesh/Carne

          The 5 story titles are taken from the 5 stages of meat roasting, from rare to well done. Each story is told in a different technique ranging from paint to claymation as well as watercolor and stop motion to accompany the voice-overs by the women. One segment uses manipulated old black and white 35 mm film footage.

          Hot Flash, the debut film by Canadian Thea Hollatz, treats a serious topic that concerns every woman with a great deal of humor. A weather forecaster is due to go on the air live on a local television station in the middle of a hot flash.

          Thea said that she got the idea for the film when she was thinking about how ineffective oscillating fans are, “. . . they don’t really cut it in desperate times. This sparked the idea of a protagonist in the throes of menopause, trapped indoors during a snow storm and how she might navigate cooling off”. Any woman who has been caught in an embarrassingly funny moment while experiencing a hot flash will relate to this heroine’s plight.

     The Town is the debut film of Chinese animator Yifan Bao. The film about family and conformity to society’s rules is a complex story that needs its full 27 minutes to unfold. The story revolves around a sister, brother, and their dead mother. The brother and sister live in a village where social status and happiness are determined by a lottery to select who can have the right to have their face replaced by a mask that gives them “the perfect features”. The sister works in a factory hand carving the masks which are surgically implanted onto “the lucky chosen ones”. This story of a society where your fate is predestined by the actions of your ancestors is beautifully animated with lovely detailed backgrounds.

         This year the Feature Film Competition had something for everyone. From giant black cats from outer space attacking earth to a South Korean operetta about Buddhism versus Christianity. It was all there on the screen. Kill It and Leave This Town, The Nose or Conspiracy of Mavericks, and My Favorite War, are right at the top of my favorites list. They are such intriguing and complex films that I watched all three of them twice. That is a total of 7 ½ hours of feature film viewing, but I did not get bored.

        Kill it and Leave Town and The Nose or Conspiracy of Mavericks were in the Feature Film Competition. They are unique in style and take a good deal of hard work and concentration, but the effort is well worth it.

      Kill It and Leave Town by Polish animator Mariusz Wilczynski is an extremely personal film that took 14 years to make. It is certainly not your usual Annecy film! Using paper cut-outs, drawing on lined notebook paper, and various sorts of mixed media techniques Mariusz, our hero, a self-professed loner, flees from despair after losing those people dearest to him. He hides in a safe land of memories, where time stands still and all those dear to him are still alive.

Mariusz Wilczyynski; photo courtesy of M. Wilczynski

      Born in Lodz, Poland, and growing up in the 1970s, Mariusz was raised by his grandmother and a divorced mother who worked hard to make ends meet and had little time for her son. He has said that making this movie became very therapeutic, giving him the opportunity to finish conversations with his mother and father along with other friends and relatives who have passed away.

     He also said that he wanted the movie to be very emotional but to avoid exhibitionism. “I wanted to be authentic”. For instance, the last conversation with his dying mother in the hospital is “. . . unfortunately almost the way it really happened”.

Kill it and Leave This Town

     Mariusz began work on the film by writing the dialogue. Many of the voices that you hear were very elderly when he recorded them, in their 90’s or so, and he knew that he would not have a chance to redo any of the recordings later. The voices are an important cornerstone of the film since they are the actual voices of the grand history of Polish culture. The late theatre and film director Andrzej Wajda, who passed away in 2016, is heard as a man on a train for instance.

      The first 7 years Wilczynski worked on the film primarily by himself. Then he realized that if he went on that way it would take him 100 years to complete the project. As a professor at the Lodz Film School many of his students have gone on to win awards worldwide, including at Annecy, so he put together a team of ex-students to help complete the film.

      The music for the film was composed and performed by Mariusz’s friend Tadeouz Nalepa. The founder of the first Polish blues band, Break Out. Nalepa passed away in 2007; however, he left the filmmaker with tapes of music that had never been heard in public before. This music became the soundtrack for the film and set a perfect tone for the images.

      At Annecy Kill it and Leave This Town received a Jury Distinction Award. If you have the opportunity to see this film do not miss it.  In fact, see it twice!

      The Nose or The Conspiracy of Mavericks was so rich in visual images and layers of history that I also had to watch it twice. Multi-award-winning Russian director Andrey Khrzhanovsky combined drawings on paper, cutouts, 2D and live-action to create his 90-minute film. He combines historical settings, biographies, and masterpieces from Russian Avant-Guard artists from the era of Stalin’s reign of terror into a delightful, imaginative work of art.

      Based in part on the short story The Nose by Nikolai Gogol, the film is a study of oppression from the rise of the Russian Avant-Guard, the Soviet Regime, and Stalin’s purges of intellectuals. The film plays heavily on the 1928 opera The Nose adapted from Gogol’s story by Dimitri Shostakovich. It was Shostakovich’s first opera.

The Nose or the Conspiracy of Mavericks

      The story takes place in three separate parts. Beginning with the interior of an airplane where the passengers are all looking at different films from classic Russian cinema to Harry Potter. The first sequence, based on the Gogol story, switches to a social-climbing civil servant who has his nose accidentally cut off by his barber. The nose becomes lost and grows and grows until it is a separate extremely large character. The gigantic nose, and the lack of it, cause the Civil Servant no end of trouble.

     The second setting is at the time of Stalin’s regime. The celebrated playwright Mikhail Afanasgevich Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita, which was published posthumously) dared to write to Joseph to complain that his work is neglected by the official Soviet Russian scene.

     The third act again returns to Shostakovich and the extremely harsh review that he received from Pravda (the official newspaper of the Soviet Communist Party) when his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsenk District premiered in 1935. The opera was based on a novel by Nikolai Leskov. When Stalin attended a performance of the opera at the Bolshoi Theatre his reaction appeared in an anonymous editorial in Pravda under the heading of “Muddle instead of Music”.

     Director Khrzhanovsky’s love of history and world culture shines through in his films. It was produced at SHAR School Studio as was Message to Mankind which won the Special Jury Prize at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival in 1996. You may not catch all the visual puns and jokes in one viewing of the film, but you will get a very entertaining look at a grim period of Russian history. The Nose or the Conspiracy of Mavericks received the Jury Award at Annecy this year.

     In 2018 Annecy announced a new feature film competition category, the Contrechamp Award. Replacing the Out of Competition Feature Film selection, the award is designed to honor emerging young directors who are making their debut at the festival with their first feature film.

     The 2020 Cristal in the Contrechamp category went to My Favorite War by Latvian/Norwegian animator Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen. It was also one of my three favorite feature films. Although not as complex as the other two films, it tells a compelling true story.

My Favorite War

     The 1hour 15-minute film uses paper cut-outs to tell the personal history of Iize who grew up in Latvia from 1970 to 1990 during the Soviet Occupation.  It traces her passage to adulthood when she decides to escape the conditioning exercised by an authoritarian and powerful regime. Speaking of the decision to leave Latvia Ilze said “I had to make a choice then – who do I want to become and what do I want to believe in”.

     Beginning in 1944 the Soviet Union, under the provisions of the 1939 Molotov – Ribbentrop Pack with Nazi Germany which lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union, occupied Latvia. The country’s sovereignty was finally fully restored in 1994. The Soviet Union used World War II as an ideological weapon to intimidate and oppress the population during the cold war. When Ilze discovers the remains of a German soldier in her backyard sandbox, she begins looking for other stories buried underneath the propaganda.

     In awarding the Contrechamp Cristal to My Favorite War, the jury stated, “We were touched by this memoir that is part of a bigger story. It gives a vivid feeling for a young girl growing up and evolving in a small Latvian town during the Soviet occupation. My Favorite War teaches the global value of freedom and demonstrates how a very personal story can be of universal interest”.

     Given the state the world is in now, this is a very relevant film for all of us. I hope it receives wide international distribution.

     If we couldn’t all be together the next best thing was the Work in Progress and Master Class presentations. I am not usually excited about the announcement of a sequel, but when Nick Park and Peter Lord announced that chickens will fly again in a Chicken Run sequel, I couldn’t help but break into a big smile. The big announcement came on the 20th anniversary of the release of the original film.

Peter Lord

     As we all remember Chicken Run was based on The Great Escape but Chicken Run 2 will be more like Mission Impossible with the chickens breaking in instead of out. The film will take off not too long after where the first film left off. At the heart of the new film is Ginger’s next chapter of her story. Ginger, Rocky, and the rest of the flock have found a peaceful bit of paradise far from the dangers of the modern world. She and Rocky have hatched an egg, a little girl named Molly. Like any teenage girl, Molly wants to “fly the coop” and venture out into the world. But back on the mainland, the entire chicken population faces a new and terrible threat. In the first film, Ginger had nothing to lose, now she has everything to lose.

Nick Park

     Peter and Nick revealed that all of the chickens from the original film will be back along with some new ones.  They said that the idea of a sequel had been in the back of their minds for a long time but they could never quite come up with the right story. Now they have it so it is the right time. Chicken Run 2 is being storyboarded right now. The film will be directed by Sam Fell (Flushed Away and Paranorman).

Sam Fell

     Aardman is currently shooting Radio Robin, a 25 minute Christmas special directed by its creators Dan Ojari and Mikey Please.

     Another eagerly awaited film is Wolfwalker from two time Academy Award-nominated director Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells and Song of the sea) and the team at Cartoon Saloon.  During their Work in Progress session, the film’s co-directors Moore and Ross Stewart; along with production designer Maria Pareja, gave the audience a look into The Wolfwalker’s world.

     Wolves once roamed freely throughout Ireland. During Oliver Cromwell’s regime, he offered rewards and bounties which attracted professional wolf hunters to Ireland from England. The film is set in the 17th century, a time of superstition and magic. It follows Robyn Goodfellowe, a young apprentice hunter, who travels to Ireland with her father to wipe out the last wolf pack. 

Wolfwalkers

     Robyn befriends a free-spirited girl, Mebh, a member of a mysterious tribe rumored to have the ability to transform into wolves by night. As the two girls search for Mebh’s missing mother, Robyn uncovers a secret that draws her further into the enchanted world of the Wolfwalkers and risks turning into the very thing that her father has come to Ireland to destroy.

     Tomm told the audience that the film is based on legends from around Kilkenny Ireland, the town where Tomm grew up, and where Cartoon Saloon is located. The wolf walker legend is similar to the myths about ware-wolves.

     Production designer Pareja said that the design of the buildings in the film is based on the actual ancient buildings in Kilkenny. We also learned that it took quite a while to arrive at the final animal designs because Cartoon Saloon has never had such detailed animals in their films before. The wolves' expressions and the way their hair moves when they are running took a lot of work to achieve the perfect effect.

     Wolfwalker is now in post-production. It should be released in autumn 2020. From the clip we were shown at the Work in Progress session, it looks like another beautiful film from a studio that is known for creating masterpieces.

     I had a hard time imagining what MIFA online would be like but it seems to have been very successful. The film market still offered opportunities to network, discuss co-production possibilities, and for distributors the chance to check out the latest films and secure distribution rights. I did not spend as much time at MIFA On-Line as I normally do at the live version but I did tune in for the MIFA Pitching Sessions.

     This year 631 projects were submitted and 38 were selected to be pitched during the sessions. The categories were short films, feature films, television series and specials, and digital experiences. There is also an animation du monde category open to projects from countries with limited production capacities such as Jordan or the Philippines.  This year a new category, pitching comics, was inaugurated.

     The selected projects not only received free MIFA accreditation, but the participants also attended a day-long workshop to learn pitching skills. An added plus is that the pitchers got feedback from a panel of professionals along with the opportunity to have prospective investors see their work. They also vied for 15 partner prizes. These ranged from the Arte France Prize of the pre-purchase of a short film to be broadcast on Court-Circuit, an Arte short film program, to a feature film Ciclic Prize of 25,000 Euros along with a 2-month residency at Vendome. You can find out all the winning projects along with a list of all the prizes by going to:   Annecy.org then click onto MIFA and go to MIFA pitches.

     The annual Women in Animation Virtual Summit at Annecy chose Reimagining the Future:  Race, Solidarity, and the Culture of Work as its theme. The day-long summit covered two topics that affect us all, the pandemic and the recently reinvigorated global call for social justice and their momentous effects on the animation industry.

     Following a short welcoming speech from WIA President Marge Dean, the first 70-minute panel discussion was Black Women in Animation: Looking to the Future. Led by moderator Jamal Joseph, Film Professor at Columbia University the panel consisted of Jade Branion, writer; Camille Eden, Vice President of Animation Recruitment and Talent Development at Nickelodeon Animation Studio; Misan Sagay, Netflix writer; and Karen Rupert Toliver, Executive Vice President of Creative Sony Pictures Animation.

     Along with sharing personal stories and experiences, the ladies addressed what it means to be colorblind versus color affirmative, the importance of finding a voice on both the executive and creative sides, and the power of animation to make an impact, given the freedom of imagination to create a more ideal and representational world. This very thought-provoking discussion left me thinking about what direction animation will take in the future, not just in presenting role models of all nationalities in children’s programming but in adult animation as well.

     The other two panel discussions dealt with Intersectionality and Solidarity and Producing in a Rapidly Changing World. A series of Home Studio Visits, a collection of pre-recorded clips offering a glimpse into the workspaces of women involved in animation from around the world, where available. With over 60 different visits to select from it was lovely to get a glimpse into the working lives of so many different women from every branch of the animation industry.

 One visit was with Joanna Quinn who is waiting for the quarantine to end so that she and her partner Les Mills can go to Canada to the NFB to finish the post-production on her latest Beryl film. There were also executive producers, 3D camera artists, and CG supervisors, and many others.

     You can still see the entire 2020 Online Summit and learn how to become part of Women in Animation at: womeninanimation.org

     Annecy Online offered more than 200 films, 32 meetings and 40 MIFA events with 15,570 accreditations from 111 countries. Congratulations to every member of the festival and MIFA staff. You pulled off an amazing feat in such a short time. I want to give a special thank you to Laurence Ythier and everyone in the press office for all of your hard work. You all did such a wonderful job of keeping me informed about special events that I should not miss.

I realize that we all feel that nothing can match the experience of watching films on a big screen with other people not to mention the socializing with friends, but when that is impossible Annecy Online was the next best thing. Hopefully next year we will all be back at the lake to finally celebrate Annecy’s 60th Anniversary and a salute to African animation. The dates for 2021 are 14th to 19th June. Hope to see you there.

   ANNECY PRIZES

   Short Film Awards:

      Short Film Cristal – The Physics of Sorrow, Theodore Ushev – Canada

      Jury Award – Homeless Home, Alberto Vazquez – Spain/France

      Jean-Luc Xiberras Award For A First Film – The Town, Yifan Bao – China

      Jury Distinction (Ex AEquo) – Freeze Frame, Soetkin Verstegen – Belgium

      Jury Distinction (Ex AEquo) – Genius Loci, Adrin Merigeay – France

      Off-Limits Award – Serial Parallels, Max Hattler – Germany/Hong Honk

Graduation Film Awards:

      Graduation Film Cristal – Naked, Kirill Khachaturov – Russia

      Jury Award – Pile, Toby Auberg, United Kingdom

      Jury Distinction – Sura, Hae-Ji Jeong – South Korea

Feature Film Awards:

      Feature Film Cristal – Calamity, A Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary, Remi Chaye – France

      Jury Award – The Nose or the Conspiracy of Mavericks, Audrey Khrzhanovsky – Russia

      Jury Distinction – Kill It and Leave This Town, Mariusz Wilczynski – Poland

      Contrechamp Award – My Favorite War, Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen – Latvia/Norway

      Contrechamp Jury Distinction – The Shaman Sorceress, Jae-huun Ahn – South Korea

TV and Commissioned Film Awards:

 TV Films Awards:

      TV Production Cristal – Shooom’s Odyssey, Julien Bisaro – Belgium/France

      Jury Award for a TV Series – Undone “The Hospital”, Hisko Hulsing – USA

      Jury Award For A TV Special – The Tiger Who Came To Tea, Robin Shaw – United Kingdom

 Commissioned Film Awards:

      Commissioned Film Cristal – Lucky Chops “Traveler”, Daniel Almagor and Raman Djafari – Germany

      Jury Award – Greenpeace “Turtle Jurney”, Gavin Strange – United Kingdom

ANNECY SPECIAL AWARDS

Festival Connexion – Auvergne-Rhone-Alps/In Partnership With Lumieres Numeriques & Meche Courte   Award – Empty Places, Geoffroy de Crecy – France

Junior Jury Graduation Film Award – Catgoti, Tsz Wing Ho – Hong Kong

Junior Jury Short Film Award – To: Gerard, Taylor Meacham – USA

Fipresci Award – The Physics of Sorrow, TheodoreUshev – Canada

Andre-Martin Award for a French Feature Film – I Lost My Body, Jeremy Clapin – France

Best Original Music For A Short Film, Sponsored by the Sacem – Home, Anna Bauer – United Kingom

Best Original Music for a Feature Film, Sponsored by the Sacem – On Gaku: Our Sound, Tomohiko Banse, Grandfunk, Wataru Sawabe – Japan

Youtube Award and 10,000 euros for assistance in financing a new project – The Fox & The Pigeon, Michelle Chua – Canada

Vimeo Staff Pick Award – A Mind Sings, Vier Nev – Portugal

Canal+ Youth Award – Cinema Rex, Eliran Peled and Mayan Engleman, Israel

Young Audience Award – The Totem and the Fox, Are Austnes and Yaprak Morali – Norway, Sweden, and Denmark

City of Annecy Award – Wade, Upamanyu Bhattacharyya and Kalp Sanghvi

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